Even for Moderate Drinkers, Going on a Binge Can Raise Health Risks

  • A new study has found that moderate drinkers who binge drink may be at greater risk for alcohol-related health issues.
  • Binge drinking is associated with negative health effects, including tissue damage, accidents, and overdoses.
  • Experts say becoming aware of your drinking pattern is a good start in avoiding binge drinking.
  • However, you should seek professional help if needed.

Even if you’re a moderate drinker, if you binge drink, you could be putting yourself at greater risk for alcohol-related health issues, say researchers at The University of Texas at Austin.

Moderate drinking was defined in their study as having, on average, no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two for men.

Binge drinking was defined as having four or more drinks on the same occasion for women, or five or more drinks on the same occasion for men.

In their study, which was published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, it was found that these individuals were five times as likely to develop a problem with alcohol misuse.

They were also two times more likely to have problems with alcohol consumption nine years later.

This was compared to people who drank the same amount of alcohol overall, but didn’t binge drink.

In order to study how patterns of alcohol consumption might affect people, the UT Austin researchers examined data from 1,229 drinkers who were 30 years of age and over.

The people were surveyed in two waves of the Midlife Development in the United States study, which gave the investigators the ability to follow the participants over a period of nine years.

Lead author Dr. Charles Holahan, who is a psychology professor at UT Austin, said his team wanted to study this issue because, when it comes to moderate drinking, the pattern of drinking is generally overlooked.

“This leaves many drinkers mistakenly assuming that a moderate average level of consumption is safe, regardless of drinking pattern,” he explained.

What they discovered, however, was surprising to them.

“We found in a national sample of US adults that moderate average level drinkers accounted for the majority of cases of binge drinking and the majority of cases of alcohol problems,” Holahan said.

“Binge drinking was linked to health or social problems from drinking among these moderate drinkers,” he added.

Dr. Patricia E. Molina, Director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Center of Excellence at LSU Health New Orleans and a member of the American Physiological Society, explained that binge drinking can create several harmful affects to health.

“Binge drinking is linked to alcohol-associated tissue injury and pathophysiology, leading to significant adverse effects on multiple organ systems,” said Molina.

“At-risk alcohol use (of which binge drinking is one form) is linked to more than 60 acute and chronic diseases, with men having a higher incidence of alcohol-related health problems than women,” Molina added.

Dr. Kevin Montes, Assistant Professor of Psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, further noted that binge drinking increases the risk for blackouts, overdoses, unsafe sex, accidental deaths, and injuries.

According to material provided by Montes, binge drinking also affects tissues throughout the entire body.

Even a single episode of binge drinking can lead to pancreatic inflammation in people who already have pancreatic damage. Over time, it can contribute to liver and other chronic diseases, as well as increasing the risk for certain types of cancer.

Holahan said he feels that these findings point to a need for interventions targeted at moderate drinkers.

One example of this would be improved screening by primary care providers that takes into account the pattern of drinking, even among moderate drinkers.

“At present, binge drinking among moderate drinkers is largely undetected in primary care settings,” noted Holahan.

Among drinkers themselves, he suggests that moderate drinkers should pay attention to whether they are sometimes binge drinking.

“Average moderate drinkers should talk with family members or a professional if they experience health or social problems from drinking,” said Holahan.

Montes said that if you find yourself binge drinking, one step you can take to help yourself is to change your environment. For example, spending less time in bars or restaurants where you would normally binge drink, or reducing the time you spend with others who binge drink.

You could also reward yourself for not binge drinking after a set amount of time, said Montes.

“It is also really important to get family and friends involved when one is considering reducing their engagement in binge drinking,” he explained.

“Family and friends will not only hold you accountable when you are tempted to engage in binge drinking, but they can also be an important source of positive reinforcement when you successfully reduce your engagement in binge drinking.”

Molina further suggested that a good start is simply becoming aware of your drinking patterns: how much you are drinking and how often.

You should also pay attention to how easy or hard it is for you to cut down on your drinking and identify what triggers you to drink, she advised.

“All of these are good steps,” Molina, “and they may have concluded that they need to be supported by behavioral interventions (provided by a psychologist, therapists, or other health care provider).”

If your problem is serious enough, Molina suggests that medication can be prescribed to help reduce your craving for alcohol.

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